In all my 10 years of international education experience I have never seen results so immediately visible and compelling. Last week, I travelled to Botswana to visit a youth organization called Young love which is implementing a remediation program called “Teaching at the Right Level” that is spreading like wildfire across India and Africa. Ricella Mburuu, originally from Khorixas, is an education student at the University of Namibia and went with me. Ricella was pained to find family members and neighbours in as high a level as Grade 4 who still could not read letters or do simple addition.
This is not just a Namibian problem or even an African problem. There is a global learning crisis. Students can finish primary without mastering basic skills. Students waste years in classrooms writing notes they cannot read and pretending to understand fractions! We were both searching for what to do to improve literacy and numeracy in Namibian public schools. The cost of private schools and extra classes are bleeding Namibian parents dry. Unlike these costly extra programs which do not have any evidence of success, we should be investing in low-cost remedial programs such as “Teaching at the Right Level” (TARL) that have tremendous proven results from gold-standard evaluations over 15 years.
Now, the Botswana government is owning the program’s expansion to all 755 primary schools! In just one month, TARL was able to reduce innumeracy (not being able to recognize numbers and do simple operations) to less than 5%.
After only 30 days of remediation, government school Grade 4 and 5 children who one month ago could not read two-digit numbers, improved to the level of being able to multiply and divide. And it cost this public school almost nothing; only requiring the time and space to try a new remedial learning approach. The desks and chairs were all cast aside, piled neatly in the corners of the classroom. A young girl, no more than 24 years old, led a group of 16 casually-dressed Grade 4’s in a warm-up game involving an invisible ball and a lot of giggles. Then the real work began. On the floor. Using simple sticks and chalk. It sounded like half the school crossed by the front of the classroom with the normal ruckus of the end of the school day. I was startled by it, but not one child even looked up, engrossed in the math problem. It was an energy for learning I seldom see in the classroom, much less in a dreaded math class. The deputy head teacher joined me, reassuring me that these simple methods were what had led to 94.6% of this class passing the exam compared to the 56% average in other classes.
With a repetition rate of 20% already in Grade 1, Namibia needs a serious remedial program available for every public-school child who needs it (EMIS AEC, 2018). TARL’s success proves that we don’t need to fork out over thousands of dollars for private schools just to ensure our children are learning. We don’t need teachers with PhD qualifications or to sink taxpayer money into expensive technology. TARL’s success proves that we can stop the blame game for the learning crisis in Namibia with teachers blaming disengaged parents and parents blaming schools.
In Botswana, TARL is implemented by a small army of dedicated youth, most without degrees, from the national youth service program. Other countries use teachers, parents and community volunteers to do the remediation. What if the Namibian government launched such a remediation program to revive learning in our public schools? We could achieve dual aims of engaging the youth and improving results in schools! The TARL approach is freely available online for teachers, parents and youth to start making incredible improvements with children today. Using only one hour a day for thirty days, we can make sure every child can read and do math. Success and rapid improvement of public schools is possible. Remediation can work wonders. Let’s prove it can be equally successful in eradicating illiteracy and innumeracy in Namibia.
Angelica Towne Amporo has a Master’s in Educational Leadership and passion for investing in public education. She has managed national-level programs and advised on curriculum reform in East Africa. Contact: email@example.com